Felix Mallard as Ben Fitzgerald
|Portrayed by||Noah Sutherland (2001–03)
Sean Berends (2004)
Blake O'Leary (2007–10)
Felix Mallard (2014)
|Duration||2001–03, 2004, 2007–10, 2014|
|First appearance||14 December 2001|
|Last appearance||26 June 2014|
|Introduced by||Stanley Walsh (2001)
Ric Pellizzeri (2004, 2007)
Jason Herbison (2014)
Ben Ian Fitzgerald (previously Kirk) is a fictional character from the Australian soap opera Neighbours, played by Felix Mallard. The character was previously played by Noah Sutherland, Sean Berends and Blake O'Leary. He made his first screen appearance during the appearance on 14 December 2001. Ben is the son of Libby Kennedy (Kym Valentine) and Drew Kirk (Dan Paris). Ben and Libby departed Ramsay Street in 2003, after Libby decided to moved to Shepparton with Darren Stark (Todd MacDonald). The family returned briefly in 2004 and in 2007, they returned permanently. Ben departed Neighbours on 2 September 2010. In March 2014, it was announced that Ben would return with Mallard cast in the role. He made his screen return on 11 June 2014.
In 2001, Libby Kennedy (Kym Valentine) gave birth to her and husband, Drew Kirk's (Dan Paris) son. The birth placed Libby's life in danger and she was rushed to intensive care with blood loss. Paris said "All their worst fears are realised, they both knew the birth would be risky for both Libby and the child – and while the baby is alright, Libby is still fighting for her life". Libby makes a recovery and she is allowed to hold her son for the first time. Valentine said "It's a wonderful moment when Libby holds her new-born baby". Off set, Valentine and Paris both bonded with Noah Sutherland who played their on-screen baby. Valentine told TV Week that Sutherland was "a complete natural" and that she had bonded with him "straight away". Paris admitted that he was a little nervous around the baby, saying "Working with Noah has been quite daunting – it's unfamiliar territory to me.
Libby and Drew struggle to name their new son and after a debate, they decide on Ben. Valentine revealed that she asked the producers to name the baby Ben after a close friend of hers who had died a few years before. Ben's middle name, Ian, is a tribute to Neighbours writer Ian Coughlan. The couple were then seen arguing over Ben's surname, with Libby unconvinced that Ben should be a Kirk. They later decide that he should be Ben K, until they resolve the situation.
Following a brief appearance in 2004, the character and his mother returned permanently in 2007. Blake O'Leary originally auditioned for the role of Mickey Gannon, but his elder brother Fletcher O'Leary was handed the role instead. A few months later auditions for the character of Ben Kirk came up and O'Leary was cast in the role. Network Ten describe Ben as being "his mother's biggest supporter and her rock" following his father's death. They also say that Ben is a "loyal friend".
In August 2010, it was announced that O'Leary and Ben would be leaving the show in September. Of the reason for Ben's departure, a spokesperson said "The Ben character is younger than the other main kids, Sophie and Callum. They are now in high school, but Ben is still in junior school, so it was tricky to come up with storylines which involve all the kids".
On 11 March 2014, it was announced that the character would be returning to Neighbours with Felix Mallard in the role. Ben comes back to Erinsborough with Libby, and their return will coincide with the Kennedy family's 20th anniversary on the show. Mallard said that his first impression of Ben was that he was "a pretty chilled-out country sort of kid, and he then comes to Erinsborough and gets into a bit of trouble..."
After Libby was injured during a bike accident, she was told that she would not be able to carry a child to full-term. When Libby did fall pregnant, she decided to keep the baby, despite being told that she could be risking her own life. While attending a rodeo in Oakey, Libby became locked in a barn and she went into labour. She was eventually found be her father, Karl (Alan Fletcher), and husband, Drew Kirk, and airlifted to hospital. Although Libby almost died, Ben was born safely, but kept in the hospital for a few weeks.
After his birth, Ben almost dies when he is locked in Libby and Drew's house whilst it is being fumigated. Ben is saved by Summer Hoyland (Marissa Siketa) who opens the back door. Libby, Drew and Ben go to visit Drew's father up in Oakey. Whilst out riding, Drew falls from his horse and he dies, leaving Ben without a father.
Libby begins a relationship with Darren Stark (Todd MacDonald) and they leave Ramsay Street to live in Shepparton. Libby and Ben return without Darren three years later and Libby explains that Darren cheated on her. Darren arrives and tells Susan (Jackie Woodburne) and Karl that Libby constantly told him that he was not Ben's father. He ends up leaving the Street alone. Darren and Libby's split hurt Ben as Darren had been the only father he had known. Libby enrols Ben at Erinsborough Primary and he becomes friends with neighbour Mickey Gannon (Fletcher O'Leary).
Libby meets Daniel Fitzgerald (Brett Tucker) and they start a relationship. Ben begins to look up to Dan and sees him as a father figure. Libby and Dan marry and Ben is a page boy at their wedding. Libby also finds out she is pregnant and Ben is excited to have a younger brother or sister around. However, Libby loses the baby, which makes Ben sad. Ben starts to feel out of place in his family as he is was the only one with a different surname. Libby allows Ben to change his name to Fitzgerald, but this causes friction between Libby and Stephanie Scully (Carla Bonner). Ben tells Steph that he will leave his name the way it is, but Steph realises that it is none of her business and Ben changes his name.
Dan becomes a good stepfather to Ben and he does all the "blokey" stuff with him. Ben and Dan's relationship goes through a rough patch when Dan threatens to hit Ben for misbehaving. Susan agrees to carry Libby and Dan's child and she becomes pregnant. However, she miscarries the baby and Libby has to tell Ben that he would not be a big brother. Libby and Dan decide to separate, leaving Ben without a father figure again. This hurts Ben and he asks Libby and Steph why no one wants him. Steph reassures him that Drew never wanted to leave. Ben continues to have a good relationship with Lucas Fitzgerald (Scott Major). Lucas helps Ben out with school, takes him on his motorbike and helps coach the soccer team.
Ben befriends Callum Jones (Morgan Baker) and they, along with Mickey and Charlie Hoyland (Jacob Brito), form a band. Ben becomes friends with Sophie Ramsay (Kaiya Jones) too and they join the soccer team, which is being coached by Andrew Robinson (Jordan Smith), until he is banned from training them. Libby takes over, which embarrasses Ben, as she does not know anything about soccer. Ben decides that he wants to be a dancer, after he gets a lesson from Sophie's sister, Kate (Ashleigh Brewer).
Ben is hurt it emerges Steph is carrying Dan's baby and Libby tried to keep it from him. Libby initially stops Ben from attending Callum's birthday party, but she eventually relents. Ben complains that his teacher will not let him give a speech to the class as she believes that he did not complete an assignment. Ben believes his teacher does not like him. Libby meets with his teacher and she learns that Ben has been writing lots of stories. Libby gets Ben tested as she thinks he is bright and when he passes the test, he is accepted into an arts school in the country.
Ben returns to Erinsborough with his mother when she accepts the role of acting deputy principal at Erinsborough High for three weeks. Ben enrols at the school and befriends Bailey Turner (Calen Mackenzie), when he notices he is being bullied by Jayden Warley (Khan Oxenham). Ben later gets into a fight with Jayden, earning himself a detention from Libby. Jayden blackmails Bailey into lying about what happened and Ben tells Libby that he started the fight. Libby suspends Ben, so Susan gets him a part-time job at the local garden nursery. Ben tells Karl that he is struggling being back in Erinsborough where his father grew up, and wants to leave. Ben eventually tells Libby the truth and he also decides to change his surname back to Kirk. Libby and Ben then leave for Oakey, so Ben can learn more about Drew's roots.
The character of Ben has been received negatively by Ruth Deller of television website Lowculture. She said "It's hard to believe something so evil is the child of Drew. One can only assume his father's horse-related death traumatised the child terribly, as otherwise there is no excuse for the brat's whining. Hopefully there'll be some sort of Ben gets redeemed storyline, because right now, he's fast threatening to overtake Hannah 'Button' Martin as the most irritating child to ever hit Ramsay Street". Deller has further commented on Ben stating: Ben has long been a contender for the most annoying child in Erinsborough award [...] He’s been acting like a three year old despite being about ten putting on cutesy voices when making shite presents for 'the baby'. But worst of all, he idolises Fitzy, who isn’t even the good Fitzgerald brother, and wants to get rid of the saintly Drew's surname, who (despite being long dead) any normal child would surely prefer to be named after."
In June 2014, Kerry Barrett from All About Soap was pleased to see Ben and Libby return, but could not help noticing that Ben's attitude. Barrett commented, "Maybe it was just his teenage moodiness, but he didn't seem over-excited to be back in Ramsay Street." She thought that it must have been difficult for Ben being back in the town where he was born and his father lived. Barrett added "We don't reckon he's happy about being back in Erinsborough. But the question is, will he tell Libby what he thinks?"
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- Ben Fitzgerald at the Official AU Neighbours website